Look Don, No Legs!

Major League Soccer's playoff schedule is bad for its fans, organizations and players. One simple change to the current format would keep all 10 teams in the playoff mix, increase average attendance, increase ratings and reward regular season performance.

With the start of the MLS Playoffs this week, I am reminded of my disdain for the 2-leg aggregate series in soccer.  I propose instead that the higher seeds should host each matchup, and that every game in the playoffs be an eliminator.  Here's why.

1. Most Mid-week Playoff Games Eliminated

Instead of the higher seeds getting (made love to) with the task of drawing fans to a Wednesday or Thursday night game in November on short notice, they are assured of hosting a lower seed on a Saturday or Sunday.  While it's true that weekend games draw higher attendance and TV ratings, to me it's more important to remember that they're flat-out more fun for fans to attend.  Fans of better teams should be rewarded with tailgates and a day-long party, not with weeknight after-work rushing-to-the-game and bedtime issues to consider.

The Wild Card matches would still be held mid-week, with the winning squads having to hit the road and play on three to four days rest at a #1 seed.  Conference Finals would be held the following weekend, again hosted by the higher seeds.  MLS Cup would be hosted by the higher seed two week later, just like it is currently.

2. MLS Cup Less Likely to be Cancelled

In my scenario, MLS Cup would be held about 3 1/2 weeks after the start of the playoffs, which this year would be two weeks earlier than its December 7 date.  This reduces the chance of MLS Cup being ruined or postponed due to severe weather conditions.  That sentence may sound bombastic, but it's simply the truth.  Eventually, an MLS Cup held in December would be ruined or postponed due to inclement weather.  It could happen this year.

3. Regular Season More Heavily Rewarded

A common argument for the 2-leg series is that it is most fair; both teams host 90 minutes of soccer at home.  If that is true, and the main objective of the playoffs was to reward the most deserving team with MLS Cup, then why wouldn't the most important competition of the year, MLS Cup, also be set up as a 2-leg aggregate?

Another reasoning is that 2-leg aggregates reward more successful organizations and their fans with home playoff games.  For instance, this year under my proposed method, New England, Seattle, Houston and LA wouldn't be hosting Quarterfinal matches.

To both these arguments, my main thought is this: Win more regular season games and you'll be hosting games all through the playoffs.

4. More Compelling TV

Elimination games would make each and every MLS Playoff broadcast compelling.  For me, first leg competitions not only don't feel like real playoff games, they don't feel like real soccer games.  The whistle blows after 90 minutes, and so what?  The introduction of this completely different format of competition in such a critical time of the season seems silly to me.  Hopefully it ends sometime soon.

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